Guest article by J.R. VanHoose
Do the kids of today know who the great basketball players of Kentucky were?
Has technology and “instant media/news” kept kids from learning their history? When I was younger, playing in my first state tournament in 1995, I devoured all of the information I could on the players in that record book. I think what influenced me was Paintsville’s state tournament appearance in 1987. As a first grader, I can remember standing on the street as the team bus pulled out for Lexington and a trip to the Final Four. At the time, I didn’t know who Bill Mike Runyon, John Pelphrey or Joey Couch were; I didn’t know where Rupp Arena was and I had no clue what the Final Four was all about. But, what I do remember, was that this bus was taking a team to play basketball and I loved basketball. My dad played basketball in high school and college in Indiana and I wanted to be like him. I also wanted the attention that I was giving the Paintsville team going to some place called Rupp Arena.
As I got older, I never forgot that feeling but I also began studying the history of the game. Being from Paintsville, obviously the first players that I knew of were the stars of former Tiger teams – Pelphrey, Couch, Keith Adkins, etc. But with my first trip to Rupp Arena I began to expand my knowledge of past stars of the “Sweet 16” and Kentucky high school basketball. This is where I began to first learn of “King” Kelly, Corky Withrow, Cliff Hagan, Wes Unseld, Butch Beard, “Goose” Givens and the long list of others. What I learned quickly, is that Kentucky has a great history of homegrown basketball players, some of which have long been forgotten.
Corky Withrow and King Kelly Coleman are deep in conversation about the great rivalry of Wayland and Central City. Photo courtesy of Kayla Moore.
Everyone knows or at least has heard stories about the “King,” “Goose,” Wes Unseld and the others. But what about those that aren’t as well-known?
What about Corky Withrow? He scored 3,136 career points at Central City High School, led them to three straight state tournament appearances (1954-56) and was a 1st team All-American in 1956 with Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. He went on to have a long baseball career, including a three week call-up to the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1963, replacing the great Stan Musial in his last game.
Another 3,000 point scorer was the great Darel Carrier of Bristow High School. He went on to have an outstanding career at Western Kentucky University under legendary coach Ed Diddle. He was drafted in the 1964 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks but decided to pursue a professional career with the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA. He was a three-time ABA All-Star for the Colonels and when he retired in 1973 he had scored over 7,000 points as a pro and had the highest 3-point shooting percentage in ABA history.
Does anyone remember Bobby Rascoe of Daviess County? He had an outstanding high school career, helping Daviess County reach the 1958 “Sweet 16” state title game. He was named to the Kentucky state tournament All-Tournament team twice and also had an outstanding career at Western Kentucky, getting drafted in the 1962 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks in the 3rd Round. He never played in the NBA but had an outstanding three-year career with the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA.
Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate to get to know these three men and come to call them my good friends. I spent time with all three of them this week at the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA “Sweet 16” listening to stories I have heard from them many times and some I was just hearing for the first time. As a so-called “basketball historian” I appreciate these friendships more than these men will ever know. I loved hearing the stories of Corky’s match-ups with Kelly Coleman, his time playing basketball at Georgetown College and his time in the majors. I laughed with Bobby Rascoe as he told stories of being recruited by Adolph Rupp, playing in the ABA and of Darel Carrier being asked to bathe Ed Diddle’s sickly old dog. I listened intently as Darel Carrier explained his philosophy of shooting, how he and Louie Dampier dominated many ABA games and the compassion he has for his best friend Bobby Rascoe.
I loved every minute of the time I got to spend with these great men. The stuff I have learned about basketball and life has been invaluable to me. But how many in Rupp Arena this week knew these men were even there? I sat there as countless people passed up these men without even as much as a whisper to who they were and what they accomplished. To me this is sad; sad because of the missed opportunity that people have to meet these men and sad because of the great stories they have missed. We need to preserve their stories, their legacy and honor them at every chance. These men and the others who I have long read about have impacted my life more than they will ever know. They gave a kid from Eastern Kentucky the hope of a dream. A dream to play in the state tournament, to win a state championship and to become a successful person after basketball. I encourage everyone, not just basketball fans, to learn your history. Sit with your elders. Ask them questions and learn. Learn about their lives, their history, and their accomplishments. Record what you hear. rite down what they say. One of these days, great people like these men will be gone and their stories will be silenced. Then we will regret that we never stopped to introduce ourselves and have a chance to hear some great stories.
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